Milos Prokic, the Chief Operations Officer at International Student Exchange (ISE), has seen his fair share of the world. He’s worked and studied in Canada, Ukraine, Italy, the Netherlands, Russia, France, and the United States, and traveled to plenty of other countries as well. That said, at no other time was Milos working with so many people from so many different places around the world — and the opportunity to interact with and learn about world cultures is one of his favorite “perks” of the job.
As 2018 comes to a close, we caught up with Milos to talk about his experiences with ISE and what he sees on the horizon for the organization.
What is your role at ISE?
Milos: I’m the Chief Operations Officer, which means that I try to make everyone within our organization more effective and efficient at what they do — I help impact every process, every team, and every person within ISE.
At the center of most of our operations is our computer system, and since I am an engineer by training, this is a big part of my job as well. That means ensuring that every application and system and process is at its most efficient for students, international agents, office staff, area representatives, and host families.
What is your favorite part about working with ISE?
Definitely, the people that make our organization what it is. The people that do this work are incredible — I like to say that they negotiate the non-negotiable. They manage to get a complete stranger into someone’s home for a year for free! I don’t know how many salespeople could actually manage to do that.
But our area representative and our managers, they actually manage to accomplish that kind of feat. Anytime I talk to anyone from the corporate world, they just don’t get it. They don’t understand how something like international student exchange even works. It’s the loving, caring individuals with big hearts who make it possible.
In your view, why does ISE exist, and what role does this organization play in serving society as a whole?
When people start to look down on certain individuals, certain groups, and get closed off in their own little cocoon, our communities and societies suffer enormously. At ISE, we work very hard to bring people from very different backgrounds, nationalities, and walks of life together to hopefully show that people from other countries — whether they’re teenagers or adults — are not so different from one another.
I often see people from middle America who find it very hard to travel abroad anywhere, especially to Europe — because it is expensive and logistically very challenging. To its best representatives, ISE offers a trip to South America or Europe every year. Many representatives then actually manage to arrange side trips just so that they can meet their past exchange students and their families. That, I think, is a sign of just how important the relationships we are helping to build are to everyone involved.
I think that change always starts with one person. So one person at a time, one family at a time, we are changing the world. Hopefully, our work is going to help people open their minds and hearts to people that are different from them. There are obviously other ways to help combat xenophobia and closemindedness, but I believe that ISE does it very well on a small scale because we do so on an individual family level. Hopefully, that can make a little bit of a difference in the world.
Why do you think ISE’s role is so important in the lives of exchange students?
The students we work with are young, just teenagers. We play an important role in making sure these students have a great time here in the US by placing them in loving families and supporting them with a team of dedicated individuals, our area representatives.
By placing students in host families, it also helps insulate students from the risks normally associated with living overseas. These are teenagers, after all, so living with a host family allows them to have experiences that are life-changing but ultimately, very safe since they have the support of a host family.
In terms of how important ISE’s role is in that, well… you’re not going to simply go online and find a family that’s willing to take you into their home. You simply can’t get the type of support that ISE provides in any other way.
What do you see on the horizon for ISE in 2019?
As the world changes, people are understandably a bit nervous or apprehensive about traveling or living overseas. We see our role in telling the positive stories of cultural exchange as especially important now and in the future, especially since there are forces that are not particularly in favor of these types of programs.
We believe in putting a spotlight on these great things that happen because of programs like those that ISE offers. In the future, I think we will need to be much more proactive, much more structured, much more conscious about and committed to this cause than ever before.